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An epic solution for saving our quickly disappearing school music programs.

3D printers and violins have more in common than you might think.

An epic solution for saving our quickly disappearing school music programs.

Imagine a high school bus stop around 7:30 a.m.

You’d see maybe eight teenagers: three holding sports duffle bags; one reading a library book; another holding a large art portfolio. The last three might be holding instrument cases shaped like guitars, violins, and trombones.

But what if those instruments disappeared? Unfortunately, that's the reality for many K-12 students across the country.


These days, most American K-12 schools are focusing heavily on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs, but performing arts programs are getting left behind. When extracurricular budgets are tight, music programs are often the first to go.

As it turns out, STEM programs could actually save music programs.

That's Kaitlyn Hova's great idea.

Kaitlyn Hova. All photos provided by the Hovas, used with permission.

At 13 years old, Kaitlyn became a professional violinist and toured all over the country. To book more gigs, she created a website and started playing around with code, too. But it wasn’t until a music theory course at Berklee College of Music in Boston that Kaitlyn discovered that she had synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that connects one sensory with another.

Synesthesia inspired Kaitlyn to change academic paths, switching from music in Boston to neuroscience classes at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, in her hometown. After graduating, she also attended Omaha Code School with her husband, Matt Hova, and created the synesthesia network called a “Facebook for people with Synesthesia” to gather data for her epidemiological studies.

Two years ago, Kaitlyn and Matt began printing shapes and stationery and eventually full instruments on a 3D printer.

They stumbled past an Instagram post of David Perry's F-F-Fiddle, a full-sized violin printed with a 3D printer, which inspired the tech-savvy couple to design and 3D-print a violin of their very own. Over the next year and a half, after creating over 60 failed models, the Hovas experimented their way to a 3D-printed, fairly cheap violin that they called the Hovalin 2.0.

The Hovas with their Hovalins.

The best part? Kaitlyn and Matt want to use their invention to help save music programs.

Their idea is that kids in STEM programs could 3D-print instruments in class, thereby saving music programs and lowering each school's costs (the instruments would be free!). Right now, they're working with school districts to raise enough money to put 3D printers in schools all over the U.S., hoping to kickstart the idea into action.

"After making the [Hovalin], we realized it could be really wonderful thing to try to help out with music programs," Kaitlyn explains. "Maybe they have a good STEM program going on, but their music program is losing funding."

"It's so empowering for kids to see they can make something out of software," Kaitlyn said. "I think it makes it more accessible."

The Hovas are not the first and probably won't be the last to create a 3D-printed violin. But they are the first to use their invention for good in this particular way.

The best part is that this solution is relatively simple but full of creativity and possibility. Plus, a recent study shows that kids benefit from music training as much as from basic classes, like mathematics.

As a former music student from a school with an at-risk music program, the Hovas' awesome intentions struck a chord with me. We need more simple, effective solutions like these for our kids. Here’s to hoping the program takes off!

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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